Cogs & a leaky cauldron

Aheli Moitra

A woman with a sling bag across her shoulder, pan across her teeth, stood beside the voters’ queue. Seeing the presence of election observers, she approached them and said, “Please write that election here has been peaceful.” Her hands swayed inward out to stress on how peaceful the polls at the station she was monitoring has been. This woman was not alone. Thousands of women were mobilized from Naga communities throughout the State to oversee election malpractices by candidates of election to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly.


Why did the women cooperate, you ask?


First, most of the women who took part in election malpractices—collecting voter slips, organizing proxy voters, giving proxy votes—are financially poor. Many of them come from unemployed families with small avenues of income; this means most of them are businesswomen running hostels, facilitating lending of money, borrowing and lending money themselves, running second hand clothes sale units, self help groups, salon workers, pan dukan maliks or vegetable vendors. After paying for their own living expenses, they make little to no savings. Any prospect of raising money for the family, such as candidates offering inducement in cash and kind, is, out of necessity, welcomed.


Second, the women, after all, belong to their respective communities and villages. While many readily ally, most cannot say no when village leaders, all male, choose to ally with one candidate or the other. Once agreed, the best way to go is to showcase organizing and mobilizing skills to reap benefits from the work put in to make a male candidate win.


One cannot blame the women for being cogs in the patriarchal wheel.


The real responsibility for the election mess in Nagaland lies with the Government of India and its democracy-forwarding wing, the Election Commission of India. The Nagas repeatedly requested the GoI not to conduct election for the violence and social ruptures it creates in Naga society. Yet, the elections were imposed. Then, it was the prime responsibility of the ECI to make sure elections are conducted in a free and fair manner—presiding officers, security personnel, polling officers, polling agents and candidates who were witness to large scale proxy voting did little or nothing to stop the malpractices.


But what example were the officers or citizens to follow? The ECI’s website and guidelines to Indian elections clearly states that official campaigns must end 48 hours before polls. ECI’s own ‘Handbook for Candidates’ states any display of election matter, whether published or through processions, to be punishable by law. Yet, it allowed election hoardings to be on display throughout Nagaland and allowed the ruling party at the centre, alongside its alliance partner in Nagaland, to carry election-related advertisements right up to polling date. On polling date, some candidates came out in processions even before polling ended. There was total impunity. The election machinery was a leaky cauldron and the only intent seemed to be to plant a flag on the moon, even if hurling it from space.


Why did the Naga people cooperate, you ask? The reasons may be similar to why women take part in their patriarchal oppression.


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